Paul Konerko debuts on the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot.
He probably won’t get in, but I’m going to lay out his case regardless.
It’s easy to pull up his baseball-reference page, cite his 27.7 career wins above replacement and immediately dismiss him. But basing everything strictly off a WAR number is lazy analysis. And he deserves better than that.
Paul Konerko was a very highly touted prospect, reaching #2 on the Baseball America top 100 prospects list (behind Ben Grieve) in 1998. His November 1998 trade to the White Sox (from the Reds) was already his second time traded since being drafted by the Dodgers (as a catcher!) in 1994. When he joined the White Sox he began to realize his prospect potential. By the time he was finished, he was synonymous with White Sox baseball.
Konerko finished his career with 439 home runs. Only 43 players in the history of Major League baseball have more. During a 14-year run (1999 to 2012), he hit at least 20 home runs 13 times; “Paulie” is one of only 34 players in MLB history with at least 13 seasons of at least 20 dingers. The six-time All-Star finished with 1,412 career RBI, and if you look right below his name on the all-time list, you’ll run into a flurry of Hall of Famers, including Robin Yount (1,406), Johnny Bench (1,376), Orlando Cepeda (1,365), Brooks Robinson (1,357), Johnny Mize (1,337), Mike Piazza (1,335), Duke Snider (1,333), Iván Rodríguez (1,332), Ron Santo (1,331) & Carlton Fisk (1,330).
When he hung up his spikes, Paul Konerko had become an icon on Chicago’s South Side. His 432 home runs with the White Sox rank second to only Frank Thomas (448). In fact, Konerko (twice) & Thomas (five times) are the only two players in White Sox history with multiple 40-home run seasons; Konerko’s were consecutive (41 in 2004, 40 in 2005). His 81 round-trippers in 2004-05 stand as the most in Sox history over a two-year span. Nobody in White Sox history can match Konerko’s 29 career multi-homer games. He ranks highly on several career White Sox lists; no small feat for a team which has been around for well over 100 years. He’s 2nd in RBI (1,383), 3rd in Hits (2,292), 4th in Runs (1,141), 3rd in Doubles (406), and 1st in Total Bases (4,010); the only player in White Sox history with 4,000 or more. With his 40 home runs in 2005 to go along with a stellar .283/.375/.534 slashline and 100 RBI, Konerko was the best offensive performer on a World Series Championship team. He was 2005 ALCS MVP with 2 home runs & 7 RBI for the White Sox in their 5-game series win over the Angels. He homered in the World Series as well. Konerko’s seven career postseason home runs remain a White Sox record.
The fact that Konerko is one of the all-time greats for a storied franchise is something that isn’t discussed enough. He’s one of only 25 players in MLB history with 400+ home runs for a franchise, and 20 of those 25 are in the Hall of Fame. The five outside of the Hall are David Ortiz & Albert Pujols (who will almost certainly get in), Sammy Sosa & Barry Bonds (well, you know…) and Konerko. There aren’t too many players in MLB history who come to the plate in a game with their statue overlooking them from the outfield concourse. But such was the case in Paul Konerko’s final two MLB games. The White Sox unveiled his statue on the left field concourse on September 27, 2014 prior to his penultimate game. The next season, the Sox retired #14 in Konerko’s honor, joining Nellie Fox (#2), Harold Baines (#3), Luke Appling (#4), Minnie Miñoso (#9), Luis Aparicio (#11), Ted Lyons (#16), Billy Pierce (#19), Frank Thomas (#35) & Carlton Fisk (#72) among White Sox greats with their numbers displayed at the ballpark (Mark Buehrle - #56 - would join them in 2017).
When you walk into one of Major League Baseball’s 30 cathedrals, you get a sense of history of the team that plays there. As you enter Guaranteed Rate Field, you see the number 14 displayed in various spots. You see the statue on the left field concourse. You see the momentos of the 2005 Championship. Even if his career doesn’t ultimately place him in Cooperstown’s hallowed halls, Paul Konerko’s legacy is one worth celebrating.